If I asked you to go days without sleep, you’d be able to predict the outcome. You would feel tired, unfocused, achy, confused, lethargic, irritable and desperate for an IV full of caffeine. It’s somewhat mindboggling that in the field of mental health and wellness, we don’t talk about sleep as one of the vital pillars of health. As of late, I have been immersing myself into reading and listening to different experts on the functional importance of sleep and the negative consequences of not getting enough such as depression, anxiety, mood disorders, dementia as well as physiological conditions such as heart disease, autoimmune diseases, high blood pressure and ulcers. Never mind all of the motor vehicle accidents and workplace accidents that are connected to lack of sleep.
Connections to Mental Heath
How can sleep be connected to the development of depression and anxiety? Well to put it simply, sleeping is our brains’ time to rejuvenate and repair any damage that has been done by working it hard all day long. If we do not sleep enough, then our moods and hormone management goes out of whack. The most up to date research indicates that sleep disruptions precedes clinical diagnosis of mental illness and can make the symptoms of mental illness worse. Our brains are fantastically complex and it requires sleep to restore itself. We can see sleep as a therapeutic intervention in order to improve symptoms of depression, anxiety and mood disorders. In a time when most people are glued to their electronic devices which in effect exposes a person to light all day long, our natural biological systems for sleep start to malfunction and we end up taking pills to sleep.
The Function of Sleep
We often believe that we do nothing while sleeping; however our brain is very active while we sleep. Sleeping allows our brain to ‘clean house’; it is time to organize information that we have taken in over the day; the cells get cleaned up and regenerate; the brain focuses on our organs and repairs any damages that have occurred during the day. So, in fact, our brain is very busy at night and it can only perform these tasks while we sleep. Without sleep, all of these vital functions go unaddressed and we will suffer both physically and mentally.
Here is a fantastic video by Russell Foster that will explain the importance of sleep and how to change your sleep patterns: